Photographed and Directed by Steve James
Produced by Alex Kotlowitz and Steve James
2011, 125 Minutes
Purchase: $195 | Classroom rental: $95
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is an epic documentary work exploring violence in America, from acclaimed producer/director Steve James (Hoop Dreams
) and best selling author-turned-producer Alex Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here
, selected by the New York Public Library as one of the 150 most important books of the century).
An unusually intimate journey into the stubborn persistence of violence in our cities, The Interrupters
tells the stories of three Violence Interrupters who try to protect their communities from the violence they once employed. Shot over the course of a year out of Kartemquin Films, The Interrupters
captures a period in Chicago when it became a national symbol for violence in America. During that time, the city was besieged by high-profile incidents, most notably the brutal beating of Derrion Albert, a Chicago High School student, whose death was caught on videotape.
The film's main subjects work for an innovative organization, CeaseFire, which believes that the spread of violence mimics the spread of infectious diseases, and so the treatment should be similar: go after the most infected, and stop the infection at its source. The singular mission of the "Violence Interrupters," who have credibility on the streets because of their own personal histories, is to intervene in conflicts before they explode into violence.
In The Interrupters,
Ameena Matthews, whose father is Jeff Fort, one of the city's most notorious gang leaders, was herself a drug ring enforcer. But having children and finding solace in her Muslim faith pulled her off the streets and grounded her. In the wake of Derrion Albert's death, Ameena becomes a close confidante to his mother, and helps her through her grieving. Ameena, who is known among her colleagues for her fearlessness, befriends a feisty teenaged girl who reminds her of herself at that age. The film follows that friendship over the course of many months, as Ameena tries to nudge the troubled girl in the right direction.
Cobe Williams, scarred by his father's murder, was in and out of prison, until he had had enough. His family, particularly a young son, helped him find his footing. Cobe disarms others with his humor and his general good nature. His most challenging moment comes when he has to confront a man so bent on revenge that Cobe has to pat him down to make sure he's put away his gun. Like Ameena, he gets deeply involved in the lives of those he encounters, including a teenaged boy just out of prison and a young man from his old neighborhood who's squatting in a foreclosed home.
Eddie Bocanegra is haunted by a murder he committed when he was seventeen. His CeaseFire work is a part of his repentance for what he did. Eddie is most deeply disturbed by the aftereffects of the violence on children, and so he spends much of his time working with younger kids in an effort to both keep them off the streets and to get support to those who need it - including a 16-year-old girl whose brother died in her arms. Soulful and empathic, Eddie, who learned to paint in prison, teaches art to children, trying to warn them of the debilitating trauma experienced by those touched by the violence.
follows Ameena, Cobe and Eddie as they go about their work, and while doing so reveals their own inspired journeys of hope and redemption. The film attempts to make sense of what CeaseFire's Tio Hardiman calls, simply, "the madness."
* World Premiere, Sundance Film Festival, 2011
* Winner, Special Jury Award, Sheffield Doc/Fest, 2011
* Winner, Best Film & Best Director, Cinema Eye Honors, 2012
* Winner, Audience Award, Philadelphia Cinefest, 2011
* Winner, Best Documentary, Miami International Film Festival, 2011
* Winner, Special Jury Award, Full Frame Film Festival, 2011
* Winner, True Life Fund, True/False Film Festival, 2011
* Winner, Audience Award, Little Rock Film Festival, 2011
* Centerpiece Selection, Silverdocs, Film Festival, 2011
* Nominated, Best Documentary, Gotham Awards, 2011
* Nominated, Best Documentary, Independent Spirit Awards, 2012
Best Documentary of the Year!
"Mighty and heartwrenching" – Roger Ebert
"The most necessary film of the year. Magnificent. An exemplary piece of both reportage and nonfiction filmmaking. One of the most engaging films you'll see this year, full of vibrant, complex real-life characters whose troubles and joys will stay with you long after the movie's done.” – Dana Stevens, Slate
"An enthralling experience… Heroically life-affirming.” – Richard Corliss, Time
Critic’s pick! "A hard wallop of a documentary... Mr. James has put a face to a raging epidemic and an unforgivable American tragedy.” – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
"A film of epic scope, infused with grand emotions." – Robert Levin, The Atlantic
"An amazing documentary. You won't see a movie this year that is more moving, more tragic, more upsetting, more hopeful or more necessary. A stereotype-shattering documentary… may permanently change the way you think about violent crime in America.” – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
“A gripping and inspiring piece of work.” – Steve Dollar, Wall Street Journal
“One of the truly great documentaries of 2011. James' Hoop Dreams
has been spoken of with reverence and wonder for 17 years; now, he has an equal to its reputation.” – James Rocchi, MSN
“A-! A powerful, patient, vital film." – Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly
"James's [...] depiction of people bearing inextinguishable pain is empathetic and powerful".– Richard Brody, The New Yorker
"A commanding documentary. Much like Hoop Dreams
… The Interrupters
reminds us of the powers and pleasures of well-crafted, immersive nonfiction filmmaking.” – Melissa Anderson, Village Voice
"The short list of must-see new documentaries…includes The Interrupters
.” – A.O. Scott, The New York Times
"Steve James’s moving, multifaceted documentary [...] changes the way you see urban violence, Chicago and, indeed, city life in general". – Ben Kenigsberg, Time Out Chicago
“Four Stars! A superb documentary. Every member of the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, the White House and the tea party…should see the film.” – Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
“I want to highly recommend a new documentary film, The Interrupters,
which provides a gripping account of conflict prevention and mediation as practiced on a personal level in inner-city Chicago. You won’t have an experience over two hours and five minutes that persists as long in your mind and makes you think about the enduring problem of violence in America.” - Council on Foreign Relations
"A heartbreaking look at some of the causes of systemic inner-city violence, and some of the people working toward a solution". – The Onion AV Club
"James captures intimate drama in the haunted lives of all involved in this process where victories are small but, one would hope, significant. Highly Recommended"
. – Video Librarian
"This film is highly recommended
for these subject areas: adolescence, African American studies, American studies, crime, Latin American studies, rehabilitation, sociology, urban studies, and women’s studies." - Educational Media Reviews Online
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